by Susan Fulmore
We welcome Spring and yet know with its arrival comes added work. Grass cutting, planning, weeding, and trimming are added to our already full to-do list. We are enthralled once again with Spring’s exuberance and richness. We inhale deeply the scent of freshly turned earth, just mown grass, or the freshness following a spring shower. Each chore is initially done with celebration that winter is over and the new season has begun. As gardeners we have taken on the role of caretaker, creator, a nurturer of green and growing things, a diligent protector, and a pruner concerned with our garden’s flourishing.
By the time summer comes along, I have grown weary of the work and wish that I could just pull out the weeds at the beginning of Spring and be done with it for the year: that once I had eradicated all of those unwanted albeit hardy weeds, I would not have to do it again. I wish I could dig out the roots of the thistles, dandelions and quack grass once and for all. Yet the reality is that gardens require continual care. It seems like almost daily there is another interloper amidst our flowers and vegetable plantings. Even though I may go at it reluctantly at times, it is when I get right down in the dirt and pull those weeds that I see things I may never have noticed otherwise. A tiny seedling, a new blossom, a beautiful insect or a silken web glistening with dew’s anointing.
I wonder if we are guilty of treating our inner life as if it only needed weeding and tending once or twice a year? I know that I can go along for days, weeks, even months without doing a thorough weeding of my life. I allow little resentments to take root, I harbor negative thoughts or “little white lies” within the soil of my heart. Just like our gardens need continual care, so do our hearts – daily even. So much happens in the space of 24 hours – interactions, thoughts, reactions, anxieties and hurts. Jesus wants us to come to Him with all of this and allow Him to tend, prune, and weed as needed.
One of the earliest images of God from Scripture, is that of a gardener. Eden was created for the first people to inhabit and is now synonymous with perfection and beauty. The people of God are referred to as His plantings, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor”. Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener”. This gardener is actively involved in our growth and invested in our flourishing. Like all of us who work the land, God longs for us to reach our full potential. All He requires is for us to invite Him in to do his work.
One way that we can do this is through the practice of Examen. This is a method of reviewing our day in the presence of God, which has its origins in the 16th century practices of Ignatius of Loyola. It is said that he held this practice above all others and encouraged his fellow believers that if they did no other spiritual exercises, they should do this one. The Examen is a spiritual tool for taking stock of our days, a way of “rummaging for God” or digging around in the garden of the day just passed. We look for evidence of weeds that may have started growing, errant branches that need to be pruned. We look for ways we have seen God’s presence throughout the day.
We begin by asking for the blinders to be removed and to become aware of the ways He was available and present during the last 24 hours. We can begin to see Him as the Gardener who is always at work tending to our souls. We may recognize His hand in the arrival of a friend with encouraging words to fertilize the seed He had planted within us. We might identify how God has pruned us throughout the day using our frustrations and challenges as His clippers.
Following this appraisal of God’s presence throughout the day comes the step of recognizing the ways I have failed to love God and others as I should. This is the part I tend to run from. Here is where I find the weeds that need to be uprooted. There is pain involved during this inner evaluation which makes it tempting to avoid this step. Yet how will I know if I am on the right path or living a life worthy of the Gospel, I say I believe in, if I do not submit to this kind of weeding? It is never comfortable to see the ways that I have been selfish, envious or proud. This is the time that I am forced to come face-to-face with all that is not right within. Like the ways I have sought the approval of others rather than living from my position as the beloved of God. The harsh words I spoke to my child, husband, or co-worker and my impatience when the day did not go according to my well laid plans.
After weeds, overgrown shoots, and unwanted suckers are removed we can finally see our garden clearly. The tiny blossoms on ground covers can be seen when encroaching neighbors have been trimmed back. In the same way, we can begin to see the way forward and the beauty that exists in our lives when we have allowed God to have access to all areas. He can lop off those fears that have been holding us back from fully thriving; weed out the sins that choke out the good growth and allow us to see our lives with new eyes. We can move forward with a renewed vision of the abundance that is possible.
Cultivating this practice keeps the “soil” of my heart weed-free and tilled, ready to receive the seeds God would plant there. As I continually submit to God as gardener, I will be able to flourish and reach my full potential under His care. Even in the act of turning over the soil within we may be surprised and delighted by something we may have otherwise missed; the release of the burden of guilt, a deep sense of being loved, or the gift of a new perspective.
Throughout this season as you spend time on your knees in the garden, turning over the soil and removing the weeds, may you be reminded to place yourself under the care of the Master Gardener.
Editor’s note: To learn more about the prayer of examen, you may find IgnatianSpirituality.com a helpful starting place.
Susan C. Fulmore thinks of herself as a prospector for beauty. Treasure can be hidden under many layers and only requires a dedicated searcher to bring it to the surface. She seeks to unearth the sometimes-hidden beauty in the garden, home, found treasure, fibre art and the lives of others. Her passion is to reflect God to the world by creating and calling out this beauty, writing is one way she seeks to do this.
She is a wife, a mother of two, a writer, a grateful wanderer of places local and far-flung. I live in sunny Alberta, Canada with my retired husband and robust shoe collection. You can find her at https://www.instagram.com/gr8fulwanderer/ and https://www.facebook.com/sue.fulmore and www.suefulmore.com